Simple exercises for deep relaxation
Reducing stress, sleeping better, or relieving pain - all may be as simple as becoming conscious of our breath. Deep breathing techniques can change our life!
Breathing is absolutely essential to life, but it’s often overlooked as a necessity for good health. Practising conscious breathing can help us to improve our sleep, reduce stress, and boost overall health. Poor breathing habits are widespread Take a moment right now to pay attention to the way you are breathing. The simple act of taking a breath is something that most of us don’t even notice we’re doing. We do it automatically, and until something goes awry, we take it for granted. In Canada, we tend to live busy lives that take away the consciousness of our breath. We inhale and exhale shallowly, and do so almost the entire length of the day. Some of us even breathe this way while we sleep. Poor breathing habits can lead to negative health consequences—our body’s organs cannot work to their full potential without plenty of oxygen and the proper elimination of carbon dioxide. So, what can we do to reverse these obviously undesirable effects? Breathe, baby, breathe! Becoming conscious of our breath Many common health ailments can be at least somewhat alleviated simply by making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply. These include high blood pressure, migraine headaches, anxiety, stress, chronic pain, depression, asthma, and insomnia. Kara Coleman, yoga instructor and director of Parallel Yoga, is a big proponent of deep, conscious breath. “Proper breathing techniques can be the key to many things,” she says. “They are instrumental in reducing stress levels, blood pressure, muscular tension, and more. You will often hear yoga teachers talking about breathing through postures, which helps students keep their balance. Conscious breathing won’t just help with a balanced yoga practice—it may also help keep a balanced life.” The benefits of deep breathing Breath is powerful. Becoming aware of the way we breathe can help us deal with a variety of common ailments immediately and effectively. Deep inhalations (the kind practised during yoga) can provide pain relief, stress reduction, and better sleep, and may even improve our concentration. (Who couldn’t use that?) Relieve pain Deep breathing may help to relieve pain naturally. In a recent study involving 14 patients suffering from fibromyalgia (a disease in which pain is chronic), researchers concluded that qigong, an exercise involving meditation and deep breathing, had a profoundly positive effect on managing the intervention group’s fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain. Reduce stress Stress is normal and necessary, and it’s not all bad. There is good stress (bringing home a new baby) and bad stress (being fired from your job). Unfortunately for us, our bodies can’t tell the difference. Stress contributes to a huge variety of health issues, so making a conscious effort to reduce and manage it is vitally important. Deep breathing encourages the body to relax and unwind. Sleep better People who are exposed to chronic stress are at a greater risk for insomnia. These people operate with elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is released in the body, sleep becomes extremely difficult, because the body finds it more difficult to relax. Deep breathing is thought to promote relaxation by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby breaking the cycle of insomnia. Think clearly A study published in 2007 involved students who participated in deep breathing meditation exercises, in the hopes that reduced stress might aid them academically. The researchers concluded that “students reported having perceptions of decreased test anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and concentration loss.” Try deep breathing the next time you find yourself reaching for a pain reliever, are feeling stressed out, are having trouble sleeping, or need to power through the last few pages of that work report. Take advantage of what your amazing body has to offer—one of its most basic functions, and a secret to a yogi’s wise perspective on life—your breath. Breathing techniques Try these breathing techniques for a sense of peace and relaxation. Breathing technique 1: to practise at home
Breathing technique 2: to practise at work
Breathing technique 3: to practise if you can’t sleep
Breathing technique 4: to practise anywhere, anytime
Deeper relaxation For even deeper relaxation, try focusing on an affirmation during your inhales and exhales. Visualizing the words “I” on your inhale and “can” on your exhale can help to clarify your thoughts and provide clearer intent and concentration. Other affirmations include “re” and “lax,” and “slow” and “down.”